Cancer Society’s gift keeps on giving

A digital mammogram machine donated to the Health Services Authority is helping more patients beat breast cancer, while also raising money for further cancer research and treatment.

Since being donated by the Cayman Islands Cancer Society in September 2006, almost 2,000 patients have used the machine for either a screening or diagnostic mammogram.

The Cayman Islands Hospital reports that in the first half of this year, it experienced a 30 per cent jump in the number of women coming in for mammograms, compared with figures for the first half of 2006.

If the trend continues, more mammograms than ever will be done at the Cayman Islands Hospital this year, says Christine Sanders, CICS general manager.

That’s important because breast cancer is one of the most common forms on cancer in women in the Cayman Islands, explains Ms Sanders.

Studies have shown that having regular mammograms can reduce a woman’s risk of dying from the disease by 25 to 30 per cent or more.

‘Early detection is the key,’ she explains. ‘If you can detect something early, there is a very good chance of effective treatment, cure and survival, allowing the patient to come out and live a perfectly normal life, just as they were prior to the diagnosis.’

Early detection also has another benefit – it allows more women being treated for breast cancer to keep their breasts. If caught early, localised cancers can be removed without having to resort to full breast removal, reports breastcancer.org.

More awareness, better technology

Mrs. Sanders thinks the increased number of women getting mammograms at the Cayman Islands Hospital is probably the result of increased awareness about breast cancer in Cayman (the Cayman Islands Hospital sees a surge in the number of women screened during and following Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October), combined with more patients electing to stay on island for screening due to the enhanced facilities now available.

Before the arrival of the new fully-digitised machine, the hospital had an analogue machine. Like a film based camera, patients that had screening had to wait for their negatives to be processed – a process that could take days to weeks, leading to anxious waits for patients and delays in recommending treatment.

With the donation of the new machine, wait times have been eliminated completely and doctors can prescribe a course of action almost immediately after the patient is screened.

The new machine also delivers higher quality images that can be manipulated to more accurately detect breast cancers.

‘The radiologists can adjust brightness, contrast and a number of other things to get a better look at things,’ explains Ms Sanders.

The machine also does its own independent interpretation of the image, alerting the radiologist to potential abnormalities, minimising the chance of a missed diagnosis.

In fact, so precise is the equipment, it can detect small cancerous growths that may be undetectable to a woman conducting a breast examination.

The gift that keeps on giving

Importantly, the machine is also helping to fund cancer research and treatment through an arrangement whereby CICS’s Cancer Care Fund receives 10 per cent of the fee every time someone uses the machine.

The CICS included provision for the 10 per cent fee as part of a Memorandum of Understanding they struck with the HSA when the machine was donated.

The money raised for the fund will also help pay for upgrades to the equipment and for training medical professionals to use it.

Ms Sanders paid tribute to the corporate and community sponsors that came together to raise the $300,000 required for the machine during 2006.

‘Together, we are making a difference to the lives of men and women in the Cayman Islands every day,’ she said.

FYI

The CICS recommends that women over the age of 40 have a screening mammogram once every two years. Women at an elevated risk of developing the disease, such as those with a family history of breast cancer, are likely to be advised to have screening mammograms more frequently. For more information, call the Cayman Islands Cancer Society on 949-7681.

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